The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced it will be deploying new full-body scanners at eight more airports across the country, a decision that brought a new round of protests from critics of the technology who consider the machines overly intrusive.
"We all want airports to be safe and secure as possible," U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R.-Utah, told ABC News. But there are "more secure and less invasive" alternatives, he said.
Chaffetz and civil liberties groups have criticized the latest expansion, complaining that the machines produce graphic full-body images that invade the privacy of innocent travelers, and they have questioned the necessity, safety, and reliability of the machines.
The new scanners, funded through the stimulus package, will be installed in cities that include Newark, Cleveland, and New Orleans. The Transportation Security Administration has hailed the "cutting edge technology" as part of its "layered approach to protecting the safety of the traveling public."
TSA Representative Greg Soule said the scanners were "critical to address evolving threats like the Christmas Day Bomber." Soule said that over the past year there were more than 80 instances where imaging technology has identified passengers who have artfully concealed prohibited or illegal items such as weapons or narcotics.
The Department of Homeland Security says the machines protect privacy because sensitive parts of the images are blurred, the person viewing the image watches from a separate room and never interacts with the passenger, and because in "the operational mode images are permanently deleted immediately once viewed and are never stored, transmitted or printed."
Chaffetz calls the claim that the images are never preserved "totally false." Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, says the TSA has admitted the machines have a "test mode" in which images can be stored. Both cite a case in which the U.S. Marshals service admitted storing thousands of images from scanners at the Orlando, Florida federal courthouse.
Chaffetz has long been a vocal opponent of the scanners. Earlier this year, he introduced a bill in the House limiting the use of scanners to secondary screening. The bill passed the House with 310 votes, but was not taken up in the Senate.
The ACLU has also lined up against the technology, questioning whether the machines, with their inherent safety and privacy concerns, would ever stop a terrorist attack." Calabrese cited a Government Accountability Office report that raised doubts whether the type of bomb used by the accused "underwear bomber" last Christmas would have been detected.
"Terrorists have already found a way to beat the machines," Calabrese said.